Saturday, February 27, 2016

The steps of a woman...

The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way; Psalm 37:23

I went on a walk last Saturday in memory of a young man whose life was tragically ended because it seems he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yet even as I write this I can't help but think how God works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to his purpose. I don’t get the timing of life and death.   My prayer is that over time the blessings even in this tragedy become obvious to his family and the rest of us. 

Often things that seem like heart breaks and tragedies are allowed into our lives because God is protecting us and doing something greater than we can see or may even understand in our brief lifetime.  My connection to this young man and this walk in his memory was tenuous. In the small world of God's hand, I had worked with his stepdad Craig over twenty years ago for almost a decade and I had heard about his death because we live in a small community where even one homicide a year is out of the norm.  I was drawn to the walk by my friend Avis, who I knew from my first job out of college over 22 years ago. Avis knew Craig's wife Carolyn and put all her organizing and people corralling skills to use as she helped coordinate the walk. I walked to support these friends that God had brought into my life so many years ago. 

On the walk I met Carolyn’s boss, a sister in Christ and heard her story of how God had miraculously brought her to America from Jamaica as the assistant of the Ambassador's wife. Her story was one of being in the right place at the right time.  She just happened to work in an art gallery for a woman's whose husband just happened to be selected as the Jamaican ambassador to the US and my new friend was on her way to Washington DC. During her time in DC, her sister convinced her to go out with a handsome gospel singer.  They got married and stayed in the DC area until her husband's friend had a friend who was selling a house. Soon after moving here she found a new job and several years later, she became the boss of Craig's wife.  As Carolyn has struggled with the horrible reality of her son's death, I can see how God brought a kind compassionate husband into her life; he gave her a praying boss; and blessed her with Avis, a friend with a gift of organization and a heart for moms who have lost kids. These people are evidence of God’s pro –vision. He provides what we need before we need it because He can see what is to come.

I find a similar pattern in the story of the Shunnamite woman found  in 2 Kings 8: 1-6 . Her story shows God’s provision in the midst of heartbreak, famine and loss.  As this chapter opens, she is trying to move back home after leaving because she had been previously told by Elisha to leave her home to avoid a famine that was coming to her land.  When the famine was over she wanted to return home but her house was occupied by squatters.   God miraculously timed her arrival and appeal for her house to the king, to the exact time Gehazi was talking to the King about her son's miraculous healing (another story). The king then assigned an official to her case and said, “Give back everything that belonged to her, including all the income from her land from the day she left the country until now.” 

In God’s perfect provision, Gehazi was in the court to speak for her and the King assigned an official to make sure that she received what was rightfully hers. It is likely that she had suffered the death of her husband while away since her husband didn’t appeal to the King.  She was a widow and a single mom in a male dominated culture. God not only spared her from the famine but He also restored her house and lands and He gave her all of the income that she left behind when she was obedient to God. God has amazing blessings in store for us when we are obedient to follow His Word. Short term suffering like leaving our home in the midst of a famine results in God’s protection and even greater blessings.   It can be hard to see the blessing in the midst of homelessness or a famine, the heartbreaking loss of a child or a spouse, or devastating health issues but God will provide just as he sent Gehazi to the court before the Shunammite women arrived. I can see how God put friendships with Avis and Craig in my life over 20 years ago and even provided Carolyn a compassionate boss and husband long before she ever comprehended how much she would need them.   God knows what we need before we ask.  Have you experienced times of God’s provision even in the midst of hard times like the Shunnamite woman?

Monday, February 15, 2016

90 Second Thought Grab

This weekend I was inspired to winnow some of the books I have collected over the years. One book was My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor about a brain scientist's journey to using her whole brain after a stroke.   I had owned it for a couple of years and never finished it, so I sat down to read it before giving it away because that is what you do when you are a compulsive reader cleaning up your bookshelves.

An hour later, I put it back on my bookshelf while pondering this insight from chapter 17.  She wrote, "I define responsibility (response-ability) as the ability to choose how we respond to stimulation coming in through our sensory systems at any moment in time. ... My anger response is a programmed response that can be set off automatically. Once triggered, the chemical released in my brain surges through my body and I have a physiological experience. Within 90 seconds from the initial trigger the chemical component of my anger has completely dissipated from my blood and my automatic response is over. If, however, I remain angry after those 90 seconds have passed, then it is because I have chosen to let that circuit run."  This quote struck me because I realized I have the responsibility to choose what I think about and what I let my mind dwell on. I realized I could take every thought captive whether my thoughts were good or bad. It was my choice if I decided to dwell on it or if I let it go.

My choice, my response-ability.  As things popped up this weekend, I consciously thought about my response, was I choosing to think about good, pure and uplifting things or was I choosing to focus on feeling hurt or slighted? I realized if I find myself in a negative spiral, thinking about past hurts, injustices and frustrations, it is because at some point in time I made a choice to think on these things. In the same way, I could chose to focus on the blessings and good things in my life.  Philippians 4:8 makes it clear what we should be thinking about, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."  I tried to put this into practice this weekend.  I made an effort to be mindful of each moment, acknowledge my feelings good or bad and then I purposely decided to choose to dwell on the good, pure and lovely. 

I pray that God allows you to see your response ability and empowers you to let go of those repetitious, negative and useless thoughts that aren't doing your brain or your heart any good. Try taking those negative thoughts captive and replacing them with lovely, commendable and praise worthy thoughts. I was amazed how quickly it made a difference in my outlook.   Let me know if you try this thought process and how it works for you.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Don't Be A Settler

Not too long ago, I saw a Direct TV commercial about some settlers that got me thinking.  The commercial starts with an Amish looking man who is working the land on a plow being pulled by two strong oxen.  His rough wooden house looks like a settler’s cabin from the 1900’s but on either side of it are modern suburban houses with yards and SUV’s in the driveway.   A boy in ragged clothes runs out of the house and asks his dad, “Dad, why can’t we have Direct TV like the McGregors?”  His father replies, “We’re settlers son, we settle for things like having cable.  …Now go inside and churn some butter and after that make your own clothes.”  This commercial really struck me because I have seen so many people who have settled for so much less than all that God has for them and as a result become spiritually frustrated.

One of the ways that I settle is not allowing the Holy Spirit to work and empower my life. God wants to heal us, bless us, challenge us, strengthen us and provide for us.  Why don’t I let him?    Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will teach and instruct us in all things, yet I so often try to figure things out on my own and use my own knowledge and experience.  Only after I hit a dead end do I stop to pray and ask God to show me his will in my situation.   

Why would we settle for our limited knowledge rather than asking our all-knowing God for his perfect will in our lives?   I have noticed that my friends and I can become spiritually complacent like the famer who still uses an ox and plow to prepare his fields.  If we don’t constantly seek to grow and develop our faith, it will become stagnant and we will not only lose spiritual ground but we will start seeking after other things to fill our needs and desires.   I believe that this tendency is one of the greatest ways that Satan’s deceives us and steals the abundant life that Christ died for us to have. I have had a ten year obsession with King Hezekiah.  He let pride over his past spiritual accomplishments keep him from giving glory to God in the present.  This failure had a lasting impact on his son and his country.  I am struck by so many people who were brought up in Christian homes that are now dabbling in Hinduism, Buddism and even Islam. I believe it is because they want a real life changing experience with God. They don’t want to settle.  They want more but often the Christians around them never modeled how to go deeper and experience more of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

The biggest reason that I have been guilty of settling for so much less than what God has for me because I am afraid of change.  Just as switching from cable to DirecTV has some inconvenience- you have to get a satellite dish installed, learn a new remote and pay a different company- this short team pain is outweighed by the benefits. At times I have been scared of really seeking after God, totally surrendering my life to him by growing in scary ways through the gifts of the spirit like speaking in tongues, prophecy, casting out demons and interceding for people in hopeless situations.  Hezekiah’s life taught me that if I am not seeking to grow and experience God in ways that stretch my human understanding, my kids won’t see a real and active faith that is different from all other the religions.  Our God is powerful, he created the world with immense potential, he designed microscopic bacteria and massive Mt Everest, atoms and electricity. Before humanity ever climbed Everest or unlocked the power of an atom, the potential was there. Just like satellite signals are streaming all around us even if we don’t have a satellite dish to receive them, God’s power is available in spiritual realm through the Holy Spirit, if we take the advice of a commercial and “Don’t be a settler.” 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Do you blog?

Do you blog?  This is a simple question that should have be a simple answer. I tell people that I am a writer and yet I must confess I am afraid of blogging. I told my friend Shelia, who asked me this last week, that I was afraid. Afraid of mean people who spew vitriol and afraid of being misunderstood. Afraid I wouldn't be consistent. Afraid that I couldn't keep the word count to 700 words- I write books for a reason.  I knew my fears were keeping me from the next step but they were stronger and inertia was easier. 

God has been gently working on my inertia and resistance. Last week, our minister talked about applying the stories from the Bible to our personal story and told the story of Joshua who was willing to, "go where the giants were."  If God has called me to do something - no matter the huge challenges ahead of me-God has equipped me and his grace is sufficient for me.  If I, like the Israelites, let fear for my kids or myself keep me from obedience, I could be unintentionally be putting them in a position that could have a lifetime of consequences versus a lifetime of victory and rest in the land God has already given us. 

This week my fear of what people might say was mirrored in a conversation my son had with his keeper coach. Last weekend he played in a mini tournament where each team took innumerable shots on goal. Since the entire field was less than the size of two goal boxes, the shots came fast and hard.  Pressure from mistakes, as well as hateful, offensive slurs that were shouted at him and his choice to respond negatively resulted in his getting a yellow card penalty.  

I was at a loss to know how to handle this situation so I asked his keeper coach for advice. He met with us after a wintery evening practice and encouraged my son with work he could be good. Then he shared with us situations where people made hateful, offensive and racist comments.  He talked about times when drunken college guys stood behind him in goal and shouted at him.  After sharing these stories, he asked my son, "What do you think was the best way for me to respond?"  Answers like, "Keep your cool and stay calm" were given but it was obvious he was fishing for more.  He finally said the answer, "Make the next save."  The keeper has to do his job regardless of the mean people around him. 

After listening to his wisdom, I realized that in my desire to avoid mean people I had decided to step out of the goal box. Logically it makes sense, if you don't want people taking shots at you then don't stand in goal.  But just as it not good for a keeper to walk off the field when an offensive person is coming at them, I am not doing what God has called me to do if I am not writing because I am afraid of attacks and what people might say about me. God will bless us when we do what he says even when people are mean.  Matthew 5:11 promises "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.   So here is my first blog of 2016, I pray it inspires you to step into the land he has called you, because he is greater than any giant and anything you fear.